Alright ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce that the Selvedge and Style Forum has been fortunate enough to score an interview with the one and only Giles Padmore of Iron Heart UK. Giles was generous enough to take some time out of his day to answer some questions we put together and we cannot thank him enough. We are truly grateful for him taking the time to do this.
I must stress that this was a collaborative effort by us (The moderators) and highlights, a member of the forum here who must get the credit he deserves as this was his baby so to speak. highlights approached us and brought the idea to the table and we all worked together to put the interview together and make the tweaks and adjustments that we felt it needed. His efforts were immense in making this interview happen and I can truly say that were it not for him, none of this would have happened.
Look for the interview in the next few days or so, it should be a good one.
Once again, we would like to thank giles for being such a good sport.
I wish to add my huge thanks to Giles whose interest and generosity were immediate. Great admiration & respect for what Giles and Haraki continue to achieve...expect the interview to be a feast & of real interest & inspiration to anyone into raw denim. It was also a real privilege for me to work with the Mods of this forum - impossible to find more brilliant men to collaborate with!! Very thankful & excited about this interview!!
Robert went all-out on this fellas. I want you to know that he has been working his ass off behind the scenes on this and with a studio assist from Todd, this should be a really cool thing for the forum!
Many thanks to you guys - and also ickes for help on the Q&A bits.
the interview has not been posted yet. We are just going over it with a fine tooth comb and making some final revisions before it gets posted.
To hell with the processing. Give us the unsanforized version.
lol.....well....Giles was awesome enough to do the interview via Skype (his idea btw) as he said he would be much more engaged than if he were typing the answers, so as a result of that we have an awesome interview fellas that is lengthy but will make for a great read that I think you all will enjoy. The transcribing is done and right now we are just dotting all the I's and crossing all of our T's.
I'm glad I'm not the only one. Considering that many of us have been evolving into better quality, nuanced denims over the past year or two. I'm thinking its me who should be embarrassed with the learning curb I've taken. But I've enjoyed the journey and the denims I have.
Alright Selvedge and Style Forum members, we are very proud to present to you our interview with Mr. Giles Padmore of Iron Heart UK! Its a great interview full of all kinds of great information so kick back, relax, grab your favorite beverage and enjoy.
This forum and its community are massively grateful to Mr. Giles Padmore for his great generosity in sharing his time and thoughts.
1. Frank Gehry, the architect, advises his students to stay with and develop their own strengths, talents and skills; to never copy, to never plagiarise. Does this same philosophy underpin the rise and rise of IRON HEART?
G: The interesting thing about 5-pocket jeans...is that you can only really copy. At the end of the day, there's not much you can do except construct them as well as you can. So, there isn't much that Haraki and the gang in Japan do, or that I can help do that isn't some form of copying and...that doesn't have a nod to the past...so we plagiarise, unashamedly, but we do try and make whatever we do relevant for now. And if that's, like, increasing the length of a Type 2 jacket and making it less boxy, because people don't wear their trousers so high these days, then we'll do that. If that means putting a storm cuff into an M65 jacket - where there never was one, but it makes it better - then we'll do that. So, we copy and improve...so we're not very original! (laughing)
2. "Over-engineered" by current popular standards, IRON HEART breaks free from the behemoth of slavery to consumption of products with built-in short longevity and rapid obsolescence...IRON HEART liberates by returning to old school integrity. Products that are durable and that IMPROVE with age. Why do you think this production ethos was remembered and revived in the nation of Japan?
G: I don't know the answer to the second question...I can give you some observations about the Japanese and their obsessiveness which probably means that we get to where your question is coming from...but I have never worked with a nation of people that are so proud of almost anything they do: whether it's cleaning the street; carrying your luggage upstairs; making a pair of jeans; making ramen or serving beer. No matter how mundane the task is...how much pride the individual shows or, appears to show (lol), and it's the "appears to show" that is all that matters at the end of the day. It shows that the pride that they exhibit doing these tasks is...extraordinary.
And a specific example of that is our 25oz denim, which is really, really difficult to make... and it is a fact that the majority of our denims, whether it's the 18oz or the 21oz or the 19oz, have a known wastage - and it doesn't matter what it is for the purpose of this discussion, but with the 21oz it's always say 10% that goes to the second and third quality, with the 18oz say it's 8%, with the 19oz say it's 15%. That's a given; you know if you're gonna do a run, you're gonna lose that percentage. With the 25oz it could be between 10% and 90% on a run...It's extraordinary!! And we have a policy of not wanting any of our denims to get onto the secondary market so we buy back all the second and third quality denim that the mills weave for us. So we buy that back from the mill so they get paid for it whether it's good, bad or indifferent. So you'd think that would make them happy - but it doesn't, because they absolutely hate making the 25oz (laughs) because they can't stand making an inferior product. Um, so we actually thought that we were gonna have to stop making it at one time. The mill said, "We're not gonna do it. We don't like doing it!" That's a fairly remarkable attitude, I think. Anyhow, that exhibits itself in millions of ways. It's not just with IRON HEART, I'd be a fool to suggest it was. Do you know what, though? I think in Japan it's so systemic, it's so ingrained in the culture that that doesn't have to be taught. In the West, certainly in my experience recently, you know, this is one of the most difficult things to beat into somebody - because it's not the norm.
Winterland, SS : Yeah, well, depending on how you're raised, you know. Sounds like in Japan they're old-school, which is great!
G: Yep, and last week in Yokohama, I was at the CC Clutch Show, the attention to detail that the gang exhibited 100% of the time, on the stand and making sure that everything was perfect, that there wasn't a speck of dust, that all of the shirts were hung the right way round. It was absolutely mind-boggling! And I suspect it wasn't only our stand and it was probably going on in every other stand in the hall.
Winterland: In some ways, the Japanese like to copy, appropriate or re-consider. They're so good at reinventing...
G: The interesting thing is...Haraki's market in Japan is not growing and may even be contracting at the moment. And that's because in his words, the Japanese are getting more interested in fast fashion. He's not seeing the growth that he's seen in previous years at the moment...so perhaps there's some form of this built-in obsolescence starting to creep in with the Japanese consumer.
3. On top of Haraki's sage design and fabric development - cotton & dye selection, weaving and dyeing techniques - AND your own massive efforts and inputs, Giles, an excellent team of machine maintenance folks & machine operators PRODUCE an amazing product. Would you say that uncompromising attention to detail i.e. sewing quality, multiple thread utilisation & precision hardware location were the final hallmark of IH products? And, further, is it an over-simplification that, at its iron heart, IH exemplifies enlightened management and loyal, specialised teamwork? IRON HEART seems to operate as a highly functional family.
G: I really love this question! (laughs) I read it out to my wife...I love the lines," And, further, is it an over-simplification that, at its iron heart, IH exemplifies enlightened management and loyal, specialised teamwork? IRON HEART seems to operate as a highly functional family." Um (laughs), I think we act as a family, but I think it's pretty dysfunctional at times (more laughs) but there is an enormous amount of respect and love for everybody in the extended IRON HEART family and you can think of it as more than just friendship in many ways. That's not just me and Haraki, that's me and Sarina, that's me and Tom...or any of the staff and to see them together, it's the same sort of respect. Haraki and I have very, very similar views on a lotta stuff. Haraki and I were talking about some really serious stuff last Thursday and Sarina was interpreting. Afterwards she said to me, "You know it's really freaky how close you and Haraki think. You don't deviate in your thoughts on really quite critical stuff." And that may be because we've rubbed along together for ten years and know what the other one will accept/ won't accept.
The other part of the question, "sewing quality, multiple thread utilisation & precision hardware location etc." Yeah, actually, perhaps it is...I'll answer that specific question in a way that actually answers some of question number 8. Um, one of our taglines at IRON HEART is, " We don't do light." Well, we released a buffalo check shirt about six weeks ago - turquoise/grey - and after we'd started shipping it, we realised we'd got some fundamental issues with the quality of it. And we pulled them back. Haraki basically said he didn't want any of them to go out. There's all sorts of reasons we got to where we got, but basically we shipped them out and we shouldn't have done. Haraki shouldn't have shipped them from the factory, I shouldn't have shipped them from here, but we did. So we did a product recall and actually, apart from the fiscal horror because it cost us a lot of money, it probably did us quite a lot of good because of the public perception of how we operate. Because there wasn't that much wrong with most of them and I might have got away with shipping them and pretending nothing was wrong with them...but, we didn't and we pulled them back...and I realised as I was thinking about it - and this is in relation to something else - I asked retailers for pre-orders for jeans made out of a newer lighter weight denim, and it was the single biggest set of orders that I'd received in my life. So, I started to think that people know us for our heavyweight stuff...but what they're doing is buying the quality and so I said to Haraki that we should change our tagline, " IRON HEART, we don't do crap! " So I think that people really buy into our quality and I find that immensely gratifying - that we can do something that people will spend quite a lot of money to buy because they know it's going to be as near perfect as it can be...You spend 400 quid, sorry, 400 bucks on a pair of jeans or 300 bucks on a shirt, it's gotta be damn good. You know, there's no two ways about it - it's a lot of money so it has to be as good as we can make it.
4. How do you market your business and how are people aware of your business?
G: I don't really. I have one running ad. in an English motorcycle magazine that costs me about 200 bucks a year...and I'm too lazy to cancel it...the rest is just social media and the IRON HEART forum and word of mouth. One of my mantras here is: "If we don't convert a first-time customer into a second-time customer, we [email protected] up." We try to make their experience, at every touchpoint, whether it's by email, phone, order process, quality of product, better than they could have hoped for. We want them to come back. So we do get a lot of repeat business and we get a lot of new customers. I do try to find out where they come from (laughs) but it's still a bit of a mystery in most cases.
Winterland: Yeah, this is one of my questions...I hadn't seen any advertising so I was just unsure...
G: I did some targeted marketing with...on the net, where our adverts popped up if somebody had been on our website and then went into facebook or somewhere else. After about a month, I thought it was looking really tacky and, as a punter, it would've started to piss me off so I just switched it off.
I'm vaguely thinking about implementing some process to help decrease the number of abandoned shopping carts that we get on the IRON HEART website, but again I'm really concerned about pissing my regulars off. So I have to be very careful how I do that. I know our basket abandonment rate is phenomenal but I'm not convinced that it really is a problem. I know, as a consumer, I often go into various websites and chuck stuff into the cart to see what happens. So I suspect there's quite a lot of that going on. There aren't that many places you can buy our shit from anyway, so it's not like I'm losing business to amazon or ebay or Samurai or to Flat Head. Anyway, we don't do a lot of marketing. The catalyst to our growth was the IRON HEART forum.
5. How has technology, such as computers and the internet, impacted on how you conduct business? Whose idea was it to start your forum and did you expect it to grow into what it has become?
G: Well, I couldn't do the business without the internet. Just wouldn't work. Wouldn't be able to communicate with Japan without the internet. I wouldn't be able to have a web shop. I wouldn't be able to have a forum. There's no way this business would be viable. And it wasn't my idea to start the forum. I didn't even know what a forum was. It was one of my moderators...a good customer and early moderator got in touch with me and said, "What do you think about a forum?" I said, "What the [email protected] is a forum?" And he educated me and I went out to half a dozen of my friends/customers in the business and they all said, "No, don't bother." Then a few weeks later one of them came back to me, "I've been thinking, I'm on this knife forum and there's a lot of people out there who interact on it, and I don't see why it should be any different for you and jeans. Why don't you give it a go?" So we gave it a go. I guess, in the early days, I said to my friends, "If I get a hundred members I'll be delighted!" And we're up to 4,500 or something now. I don't know, in ratio terms, what that means to people who actually look at it. But it's grown into a beast that's actually quite hard to manage at times....
If we go back to very early days when Jonathon suggested I did it, and I didn't really know how it would work, I soon realised one thing: when I saw the spike in our sales the day we started the forum...I mean it was gobsmacking! It made a massive difference overnight. And I suddenly realised that the forum was giving credibility to a little known product, run by a little known guy, in the arsehole of nowhere on the south coast of England. A lot of customers, especially US based customers who probably never bought anything outside the US before, were being asked to make this great leap of faith in buying some stuff from a crap website that I had built with Dreamweaver, from somewhere they had never heard of, from a brand that had little brand recognition. It was shipped by me, by Royal Mail, untracked. So it could take anything from a week to six weeks to get to the punter. That's what it was like before the forum! And, in fact, it was a bit like that after we set the forum up. What the forum did, was to give normal people a platform to say, "Actually, you may not have heard of Gosport, but I ordered my jeans, I got them, and they're great." So, the forum's legitimised the business to a great extent. People realised I wasn't some scamster going to run away with their 400 dollars. There were real people there (at the forum), wearing real stuff, talking about real experiences and most of it was good...The Law of Unintended Consequences is enormous, and here's another one: We track search criteria that people use to buy our stuff and you probably know that the search engines like dynamic content, dynamic content is good, so they'll put dynamic content high up on their ratings when the spiders do their little crawls at night, or whenever they do them...and all of the brand threads on the forum are very active. The Samurai thread is very active, The Flat Head thread is very active etc., etc - so for instance if you google 'Samurai', the IRON HEART forum comes in pretty high on the list. And we've actually seen instances of people googling Samurai and ending up buying a pair of IRON HEART! That's a Law of Unintended Consequences. I never knew anything like that would happen. But I don't know of any other Japanese brand that has its own forum. It would be quite difficult to set one up now because we've claimed that ground now. You can talk about Flat Head or Samurai on our forum, I don't care. So, there's a place to do this anyway. I think it would be hard for anyone else to do what we've done - none of what I've done is intentional!! I can't take any credit for any of this. It's just what happened.
6. Legions of IRON HEART lovers across the globe appreciate that IH is not 'fashion' related, so we WON'T ask you for trend predictions related to workwear etc. However, as your product range grows, it's very clear that evolution and innovation continue at a robust pace - so, what is/are on the IRON HEART drawing board right now?
G: Well, we're working on all sorts of new stuff. One of the things I'm super excited about is making a denim where the weft yarn will be made from currency pulp, rather than cotton. And currency pulp is super, super strong and it can be spun into a yarn. The experiments we're doing at the moment are with a 2-ply yarn, it's very, very thin and very strong which means that you get very little weft showthrough on the face of the fabric because the weft is so thin. So, we get a really dark denim. Because the weft is so thin, a denim that we weave with it that weighs 18oz will feel like a 14oz denim. It'll have the strength of an 18oz but only feel like a 14oz and we don't know of anyone else who does it in Japan. So that's super exciting.
One of the questions was were we gonna move down the ounce scale? Well, we already do a 17oz, which I alluded to earlier, and that's an organic cotton, natural indigo and we do three models out of that now and they're priced at $275 - which is pretty good for us. But, in light of what I learnt about the change from "we don't do light" to "we don't do crap", I asked Haraki to develop a lighter weight denim...so we'll be releasing a 14.125oz sanforized denim in January or February and it has got phenomenal interest from the retailers who've seen it. We're releasing a range of jeans - and probably only in Japan because it's probably too technical for my market, outside Japan. Paraffin-coated 18oz and 21oz denim in 666 & 634. So, it's waterproof...it's very biker-specific stuff. So I'm not sure I'm gonna get any orders from retailers outside Japan...but we'll see. And we're doing some fairly sophisticated, technical jackets this year. One of them we're calling the "Winter Parka" is as good as any technical winter garment I've seen from any of the established outerwear/winterwear companies. It's just extraordinary. So those are some of the things we're working on. The parka will be out in October, the 14oz in January, the money pulp stuff probably March-April before we start seeing jeans made out of it.
Winterland: So, that coat would be one of the warmest you've released?
G: It's off-the-scale warm. It's so warm I don't think I could use it skiing.
7. Giles, why did Haraki decide to discontinue the Triple Works line? Does IRON HEART/THE WORKS plan on possibly introducing another line any time in the near future?
G: Haraki didn't decide to discontinue it...I told him to kill it! (laughs) Haraki and I really, really, really wanted Triple Works to work. We loved the concept, we loved what we could do with it, we saw that ...and I truly believed I could make it into another brand as big as IRON HEART. I was completely and utterly wrong. My direct customers thought of it as a poor relation to IRON HEART so they were very snobby about it. I'm not being critical about them, it's just a statement of fact. People who bought it were extraordinarily pleased with it. I mean, it was made in the same factories as IRON HEART, by the same people, designed by the same people...it's just got a different label but the IRON HEART name appears to be really quite important (laughs). It came to a head last November and Haraki was showing Spring-Summer 2015 Collection in Japan and I was there with all my retailers and some of the Triple Works stuff he showed was really, really outstanding. After the first meeting, I chatted to one of the retailers who'd seen it. I said," The Triple Works stuff is great isn't it?" He said, "Yep, but I won't buy it." I said, "Why?" He said, "I don't need to bring another brand into my store. I don't need my salesmen to have to explain to every customer what the relationship between IRON HEART and Triple Works is. I just don't need that aggro, ok?" And the next day I spoke with my biggest retailer, I said, "What do you think about Triple Works?" He said, "It's great, but I won't buy it."
We had a dinner party that night for our retailers and I called Haraki aside and I said, "Look, I don't need an answer now but we should just put the IRON HEART labels on this shit, give me an answer in a couple of days when you've thought about it but, I tell you what, if we keep the Triple Works label on it, we won't sell much." And he said there and then, "OK, made my decision, we'll drop it." So we did. It's all called IRON HEART now. Although they still refer to the ex-Triple Works stuff as "Iron Heart International" in Japan. And they're talking about it but none of it has sold in Japan yet but they probably will in 6 months. So, for this season and next season all of the stuff that was gonna be Triple Works is not available in Japan.
8. So, now that the Triple Works line is done, will IRON HEART ever consider releasing any lighter weight denims (below 18 oz)?
G: Yes, we have just released IH-555N which is a slim cut made from 17oz organic cotton/natural indigo. We will be releasing the 666 and 634 cuts out of that denim in Sept/Oct. We would have released earlier but the demand for this stuff has been so incredible that we're having to weave more denim before we can make the jeans. And as I talked about earlier we are releasing a 14oz denim early next year.
9. What factors decide whether a product will be released in Japan? Also, what determines whether a product will be sold through another retailer (Self Edge, Rivet and Hide etc.)?
G: If I come up with an idea and have a sample made, the chances of it being sold in Japan are remote. Not because Haraki doesn't like it...I think he quite likes me having stuff that isn't available in Japan. Occasionally he will ask me for permission - which I always giggle at. "Giles, can I sell this in Japan?" So, the 666 cut, which is my concept, he now sells in Japan and it's proving to be a massive success. I come up with other ideas occasionally and he says, "That's so good, I want to do it." But a lot of my ideas are for stuff that I know will work outside of Japan...and, possibly, won't work in Japan...or, the timing of my release in the West doesn't sit comfortably with the timing of releases in Japan, so he doesn't bother doing it. There's no hard and fast rules.
And, the second part of that question, if a large retailer comes up with an idea, the chances are, that they will want exclusivity. But often retailers quite like me to sell a collab because it gives them a wider audience, or they can't meet the minimum order requirement themselves so I can take the balance and sell them. So, it makes it easier for some of the smaller retailers to have a collaboration which they wouldn't have had otherwise but typically, if they come up with an idea, it's theirs, but occasionally I'll come up with an idea and suggest it to a retailer and say, "Why don't you do this?
Winterland: So, if a retailer does a collaboration with you, a lot of times those runs aren't as big as, say, a normal run of 666's? Correct?
G: Well, our minimum run is a hundred pairs of jeans. Our minimum run of fabric, if somebody wants a custom fabric, is 400 pairs of jeans or the equivalent. So, I think that's fairly big numbers for a lot of retailers. It's not in the greater scheme of things but, in our paradigm, it's quite a lot. I guess when Haraki does a run of 634S, he probably does batches of six hundred. So, yeah, a batch of a 100 jeans is a pretty small run.
10. Are the fabrics used in Iron Heart products proprietary...or, rather, produced only for IRON HEART? Which are the major mill/s working with IRON HEART and/or can you tell us about your new policy of working with tiny house mills?"
G: I think we have four types of fabric. The majority of our fabrics, currently, are our stuff we designed, we commissioned and we had made and nobody else can use. And that's certainly true of most, if not all, of our denims. There's maybe one that we've let somebody else have access to. All of our heavy flannels are designed and made just for us. So, I would think 60% or 70% of our fabrics are designed and made for us and can only be used by us.
We started a new policy of looking for little mills that make tiny amounts of really super stuff. And, we have shirts coming out in September and October. In fact, we've just released the IH-712, it's an olive and charcoal herringbone selvedge fabric - that's from one of these tiny little mills. I don't know if we buy everything that they make, so it maybe that we see other people using that fabric...but, they make so little of it, it's not gonna be ubiquitous. And then, we're releasing a flannel in the fall, that's 10oz, it's selvedge and the blue yarn is indigo dyed, and that's from a tiny little mill. I suspect we bought all they made of that. That's the second...the third is...we find a lot of really nice deadstock stuff, so we bought a shitload of deadstock selvedge, 6oz chambray recently. We found a lot of really nice indigo dyed hickory striped recently. In both cases we bought everything available.
So, the third type is for the deadstock stuff, it's great. And the fourth type is traditional fabrics, like herringbones, the chambrays, that, to initiate a run is enormous and we probably wouldn't end up making it much different to what's already available. In certain instances, we'll use stuff that is generally available but it doesn't happen very often.
We are releasing a shirt in a couple of weeks that we do buy the fabric in for and you can find other articles made of the same fabric if you try hard enough. But the fabric is so good that, personally, I don't mind. About 4 or 5 years ago, an American company made a shirt with the same fabric as one of our shirts...and I sent a copy of that webpage to Haraki and he said, "That's never gonna happen again. From now on, we make our own shit." So, it's something that's quite important to us...that you can't buy the IRON HEART look from somebody else. You know, I'm asked all the time by small manufacturers whether they can buy our denim. "The answer's no - sorry!"
Post by youwinatlife on Jun 8, 2015 3:27:31 GMT -6
1. awesome! 2. currency pulp? one thing that will probably always stop me from getting much/any IH stuff is the price, so to have clothing literally made out of money it will be safe to assume i will not even be going near that stuff. i'd love to see the manufacturing process. i'm imagining a room full of fat tycoons (not that i see the IH people like this! i'm just being goofy!), like the guy from monopoly, all smoking rolled up benjamins, and they tap the ash into trays and that ash is poured into vats of the finest molten canadian toonies and...... yeah. 3. good interview, guys! giles! worried about being embarrassed?! hilarious! you guys are so cool!
Interesting and enlightening interview. Thanks for the good read, Giles.
My question: Without naming names, what are your thoughts on the current trend of companies that use crowd-sourcing as a means to produce and sell denim goods? There are certainly cases where certain start-ups have transitioned to successful clothing companies, but there are others that have proven otherwise. Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
Second question: What are some of your favorite denim brands outside of IH?